Dockland established a high orbit above the hastily made assembly yard. The final ships returning to the planet surface disappeared from visual monitoring once they’d slowed enough to lose the flaming tails marking their passage back to the landside construction site.
“I guess that proves there are people here,” Lastin said. He chuckled, first in disbelief but sounding nervous when he stopped, and then ran his fingers through his hair.
Captain had ordered Leo and Trevor not to disclose their report’s findings. Right now was when the majority of people on Dockland were finding out why getting to planet seventy-four was so important that the order to route here had come from Public Face directly. Lastin had been one of the people theorizing settlers being landside, but he’d been a minority of Dockland’s population in thinking so. Most people on board believed a weapon had been found.
The voice intercom between the bridge and below decks control room toned. Everyone hurried back to their assigned consoles, glancing at the intercom speaker nervously and waiting for the expected orders from Captain. Trevor swiped her smart’s holoscreen closed and disconnected from her friend’s vid.
“Bridge crew, scan surface and open comms for all InterStel channels.” Captain was on the bridge for the initial contact with the landside population, so they heard the order through the open intercom link. “Below decks control room, scan and sweep surface, and open comms for both InterStel channels not bridge monitored,” Captain ordered.
Leo glanced a smile at Trevor as he settled into the seat at NavCom. She was trying to scrub the rough feeling of needing sleep out of one eye with her fist while using the other hand to start the satellite sweeps Captain requested. Leo waited from his seat in front of NavCom, watching across the room to where Trevor was working, Lastin beside her and punching in the commands for engaging the old landscan sensors. The odd terminology Leo had only heard before in Technology History of ‘punching in’ commands had finally stopped sounding like a joke now that his hands ached from using the antique systems for more than half the week.
Captain kept the intercom link open. “Initiate message send,” she ordered. The bridge InterStel Officer promptly deployed the pre-recorded message from Captain across all of the bridge channels as the below decks InterStel Officer punched in the commands to send off the message on the first of two channels so outdated they weren’t recognized by the bridge control systems.
Everyone’s smarts chimed with a message from Captain being saved to each member of Dockland’s crew. The file was a transcript of the message she’d just ordered sent landside.
Leo read through it quickly. The message was a goodwill greeting and a warning. It requested viable and verifiable identification of the peoples now apparently inhabiting Daion Central World. The goodwill part of the message was that – if appropriate identification was provided – any action by Dockland would be in accordance with current laws and Daions would be treated respectfully per the agreement signed many, many standard years ago. The warning part stated failure to provide identification would be viewed as evidence of illegal settlement and illegal settlers would be detained landside for removal to Coalition Central Worlds and fair trial.
“Message sent, Captain,” the bridge InterStel Officer stated. The below decks InterStel Officer huffed, muttering about how ridiculously long it took to operate the old InsterStel as she switched to the second channel and began punching in commands to send the message again.
“Message sent, Captain,” she confirmed a few moments later.
Leo closed out of the transcript file. He yawned out of pure exhaustion and swiped the screen on his smart to begin scrolling through news pages. He hoped the distraction of whatever else was happening in the galaxy would stop him from thinking about the all-channel message making its way to the planet and initiating the wait for a response.
For the past few cycles, the news pages Leo had checked were dominated by releases of information pertaining to the latest investigation of corruption in Senior Coalition. The name ‘Shaverrim’, which Public Face had mentioned when Captain first reported to her about planet seventy-four being populated, was popular in the articles and often got mentioned as belonging to a person suspected of being an Isolated Radical sympathizer. But, Coalition Games were also getting underway – the opening ceremonies happened a few standard hours ago – so the news articles Leo scrolled right now were definitely split.
Coalition games happened every ten standard years, but corruption investigations in Senior Coalition were relatively common, happening every three to five standard years. Usually investigations were due to some minor scandal or another coming to light and then quickly disappearing from head article positions. Leo was interested in this investigation only because he had been part of triggering it.
He and Trevor had both also already received written notifications thanking them for their testimony and politely removing them from any further parts of the investigation. Captain had smiled about it when they’d showed her.
“I guess Annise liked you two enough to keep you clear of the politics,” was all she’d said. It felt anti-climactic.
Except now Dockland was here, a full three cycles ahead of any other ship, staring down at the cause of the investigation and as deep into the politics as any crew could get. The next ship to arrive would be Shiner. Captain had frowned about that, but hadn’t shared her thoughts for explaining the expression on her face. Buccaneer and Oscareous, the two starting from furthest away, would both arrive on the fourth cycle.
The bridge received the response to Captain’s message first, but it was a mess of static and tones when they tried to play it back. The second channel of the below decks’ InterStel provided a calm, male-sounding voice requesting identification of the people on Dockland before agreeing to transmit any information of those on the planet. Leo could picture the grin Captain would have after listening to that message. Probably, he thought, it would be the exact opposite of the sickened stare Trevor was throwing at InterStel’s antique panel speakers.
Captain saved her pre-recorded reply into the below decks InterStel Officer’s shared file, and then saved a transcript of this next message to the entire crew. Leo opened it quickly to read that this message provided Dockland’s registration and standard crew information, already complied and prepared for sending landside at a moment’s notice.
Leo quit scrolling the list of crew names and jobs when Captain informed the whole ship in a single announcement that contact had been made with a landside population. She finished by saying she was moving stations to the below decks control room to continue the conversation.
Trevor still looked to Leo like she was going to vomit on a console, but now she was staring at the intercom speaker as if willing Captain to take back the announcement of coming below decks.
“What’s wrong?” Lastin asked Trevor. He was the closest person to her and the way she’d jerked to stare at the panel for InterStel and then at the intercom speaker had caught his attention.
“I… what?” She snapped her attention to Lastin and then shuddered, as if a full-body quiver could shake away whatever thoughts she was having. “Nothing,” she said, clipping the word short of its ‘g’ in her haste to spin back and stare at the satellite screens.
Leo didn’t believe her for a second, and obviously neither did Lastin, but Leo was all the way across the room so couldn’t very well call out for Trevor to publicly share whatever was making her so uncomfortable. Leo was grateful on Trevor’s behalf that Lastin knew better than to ask again.
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